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Another “first” egg?

February 8, 2016

Just a quick update.  Minnie has been a real trooper laying just about an egg every day since her first one.  They got a little bigger and a little bigger until on about day 4 they became a uniform size which I’d call medium.  Today, I went out to fetch a Minnie egg and found this tiny thing about the size of a quail egg, still warm from the hen.  I can only assume another of the Carlton-Ritz hens has begun laying….but who?

Here is a shot of today’s tiny egg on the far left, with Minnie’s first egg in the middle, and  one of her “regular” sized eggs on the far right.

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I can’t wait to see what I find tomorrow and to see if I can figure out who the new layer is.  I guess at this point it could be any of them since Penny, the youngest, just turned 17 weeks old.  Max is the likely culprit since she is the same age as Minnie, but she nor any of the others seem to have anything close to mature combs and wattles.  I guess I’ll have to do some spying when I can to see if I can catch someone in the act.

The eggs thus far are wonderfully delicious.  It will be great when more hens begin laying so I might start sharing.  At the moment, I am most uncharitable and don’t have an eye toward sharing at all.

Here’s a video of the Girls pecking around the yard taken a week or so ago.

The next one I shoot will have to have Bodhi in it since he is now allowed in the Run with the Girls, which is so cool.  It’s a bit of a story, but Max, Minnie, and Harriet got loose the other day in fairly close proximity to Bodhi.  Well, he was the perfect gentleman and just sat there and watched the comedy unfold while I did my best either catch them or shoo them back into the Run.  Since he was so calm, I took him into the Run with me on leash the next day and by the following day, he was roaming free in the Run with the Girls.

Since I didn’t’ raise the hens from chicks, I am still working on them sitting with me and being OK with being picked up and handled by me.  Yesterday, I was sitting on the ground trying to entice any of the hens into my lap when Bodhi got a bit jealous and decided he should be in my lap instead of Minnie, so he very gently came over and stepped into the spot hurriedly vacated by her.  Too cute and funny.

That’s it for now.  Lots more to report another time.  I’ve still got to tell you about the Chicken Tractor, the Mealworm Farm, and the Fodder Growing Project, so stay tuned.

WE HAVE AN EGG!

January 29, 2016

Our very first egg arrived today and was found deep in the bedding of the Carlton-Ritz Chicken Palace.  I am so proud.  Minnie did a bang up job.

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It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

Many first eggs are misshapen and/or are soft since the hen forgot to add the shell, but not Minnie.  Hers is absolutely perfect.  Have I said how proud I am?

After getting home this afternoon, I headed straight out to the coop to see the Girls and to check for an egg.  The snow is melting and the temps have warmed up nicely, so I’ve been hopeful.  Upon arrival, I noticed right away a large hole or “nest” in the bedding in the far corner of the coop, but a quick glance didn’t offer anything of note, so I went right to the nesting boxes.

Empty.

Bummer.

But wait!

That place over in the corner really looks suspicious in that it looks much more like a nest than a normal napping spot, so I went over for a closer look.  I wasn’t sure at first as some of the bedding was in the way, but sure enough, there it was.  The best egg ever.  Lying there in perfect simplicity.

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Well gosh, I was so excited as I’m sure you can appreciate.  I laughed and squealed and ran for my camera telling Bodhi the news on the way.  He too was very excited though Stella didn’t seem the least bit interested.  I took several pictures and handed out raisins all around.  I guess in the chicken world, one hands out raisins instead of cigars on such an occasion.  Minnie got extra raisins of course and the others didn’t seem to mind at all.

Here she is on her big day.  Poor girl, I don’t think I’ve taken a good picture of her yet.  And look at Harriet.  That is a really terrible picture of her.   I mean, where is her neck?

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I can’t wait to see if I get another egg tomorrow or the next day or in another two weeks or when.  I understand hens can start right up with regular egg production after their first egg or it can take a little while to get things going.  We’ll just have to wait and see.  It does look like Minnie will be the only one laying for awhile judging by the combs and wattles of the others.  I don’t know about Harriet though because her breed doesn’t have combs and wattles, they have ear muffs and beards.  Go figure.  I guess I’ll know though when she lays because the eggs will be either pale blue or pale green.

Since the golf balls didn’t do the trick (so far), I’ll need to research how to get Minnie to use the nesting boxes instead of the floor, so we don’t have any broken eggs on our hands as we move forward.

For the inquiring minds that want to know what I’m going to do with this first egg, I’m going implement Lucinda’s idea to preserve it by blowing its contents and hanging it from a string.

Stay tuned for news of my meal worm farm and my fodder growing project.

It is SO MUCH FUN around here.  I just need some dwarf goats and maybe some of those tiny pot-bellied pigs.  And a burro.   Just sayin’.

 

Snow Day at the Carlton-Ritz Chicken Palace.

January 22, 2016

Well hello there.  I feel like its been quite a while since I’ve written and there has been so much to report.  Most of it good and fun, but there has been one Terrible Awful.  I’ll go ahead and share that news and get it over with so we might put it behind us and move on.

It is through tears and a sad heart that must tell you I lost Polly on January 3rd, to what I believe to be a neurological disease caused by who knows what.  I had to ease her out of this world myself and can still barely bear to think about it.  Poor girl.  While I researched this possible eventuality before getting my hens, I certainly did not expect to be faced with such so early on and it has been a hard thing to come to terms with.  That said, I guess if your’e going to have chickens, you’ve got to be expected to put on your big girl panties once in a while, so there you have it.  Let’s not discuss it further and move on to Penny, Harriet, Marilyn, Max, and Minnie, who are all doing fabulously well, I’m most grateful to say.

In fact, I do believe I can be expecting my first egg any time now.  Actually, it will be Minnie’s first egg.  She has matured the fastest by far and is now around 20 weeks old.  In the chicken world, the point at which a hen lays her first egg is called the Point of Lay.  This can range anywhere from 18 weeks to 12 months (with most between 18-26 weeks) and is determined by a number of factors including:  hormones, breed, health, lighting, extreme temperatures, stress, and diet.  Much like children, hens mature or reach puberty so to speak, at varying ages.  Telltale signs are combs and wattles growing in and turning dark red, exploration of the nesting boxes, eating the extra calcium provided, a new, deeper sort of clucking, and a squatting behavior.  So far, Minnie definitely has the combs and wattles covered as well as the new clucking, she is perhaps eating the calcium I began providing at 17 weeks and may be in and out of the next boxes, but I haven’t witnessed it.  I’ve tried to put pieces of straw on the perches outside the nesting boxes to see if they have been disturbed, but never know if the straw is gone due to a breeze or to a hen practicing sitting in there.  Wish I had a “hen cam” so I could see whats going on when I’m not out there.

Take a look at these two photos taken maybe 2 weeks ago of Max and Minnie.  They aren’t the best, but you’ll get the idea.  See all the red comb and wattles on Minnie and no color and very little comb and wattle on Max.

Minnie’s comb and wattles are much larger and are a deeper red now than when these were taken, and this past week, she started the new clucking.  I’ve been checking the nesting boxes daily, but with two weeks of crazy single digit temps and now the blizzard, I’m not sure anybody would want to lay an egg, less more your very first egg ever.

To help things along, I’ve moved the girls over from Grower Feed to Layer Feed which has more calcium and a tad less protein.  Additionally, I’ve put out a separate feeder of Oyster Shells for added calcium.  Folks also use crushed egg shells, so I’ve been washing, drying, and saving my eggs shells for awhile now so I’ll have them as a source of added calcium when the store bought Oyster Shells run out.  Hens will eat this as needed because an egg laying Hen needs tons of calcium.  Additionally, I’ve put lots of cozy straw in the nesting boxes along with a golf ball in each.  The golf ball (some people use a wooden egg) is to help the soon to be layers know where they are supposed to lay their eggs.

I’d guess there is at least 6-7 inches of snow on the ground already with more falling fast and furious.  I went out early this morning to stomp out a few paths for the chickens and clear off their favorite bench and bale of hay in the event they wanted to venture out.  I didn’t have any takers, so after about an hour, I shut the door to keep them cozy inside.  I’ll head out later with some raisins (one of their two favorite treats) to say hello and to check the nesting boxes….just in case.

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Until next time.

Updated Info and Photos: My New Favorite Thing

December 19, 2015

Well hello there.  Nice to see you again so soon.

I had hoped to post some photos of the hens vying for a spot on the “non-roost” roost, but couldn’t get any good shots, so went ahead and posted the story anyway.  Well, wouldn’t you know, I got some great pictures this afternoon of the girls trying to secure their spot on the skinny little board up against the wall, so without further ado…

This first shot shows Penny and Polly in prime position on the support bracket with Marilyn and Harriet apparently discussing how they ended up out on the real roosting bar and what they are going to do about it.  I think Penny and Polly are showing quite a lot of gumption in trying to secure the best spots considering where they always end up after all is said and done.

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These next two shots show the situation as it usually is once everything has been negotiated.  You can see the young Buff Orpingtons, Penny and Polly are lowest on the totem pole, so are relegated to the Outer Mongolia section of the desired roosting area.  Max and Minnie, the Black Australorps,  and Marilyn who is only recognizable by the tip of her black and white tail  hanging down next to the black tail hanging down, have the three most coveted spots along the support bracket.  And Harriet…dear Harriet.  It looks as though Harriet, the brown one,  has just thrown herself onto the pile that is Max, Minnie, and Marilyn and has somehow settled in on top.

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And a close up of the puppy pile of pullets.

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I do love these chickens and they aren’t even close to being full grown.

Another bit of new information I can offer is that both Max and Minnie ate Meal Worms from my hand this afternoon.  Marilyn and one of the Buffs got really close and I could tell they really wanted to, but they just couldn’t quite muster the courage.  Nevertheless, progress is definitely being made.

Stay tuned for more coop news.

 

My New Favorite Thing

December 19, 2015

What fun I’ve been having with the hens.  It’s really been a joy.  They are growing so fast, but all at basicly the same rate so they are still three distinct sizes.  I’m guessing this will change at some point and they will eventually be close to the same size.

Since last I wrote, the hens and I have settled in to somewhat of a routine. Every morning just after day break, I head out to the coop to open the Pop Door, the main shed door, and two of the windows.  At this time, I change the water if necessary- from dirty to clean or  from frozen to a more user friendly, liquid form.  I also put two pans of feed out in the run since I think they like this better than eating from the feeder I made.  Before I leave for the day, I check on them again, clean the nightly droppings from the “poop board” and double check all doors and fencing are secure.

Since my schedule is flexible and varies from day to day, I am often home at some point during the day and can spend time with them.  Its been fascinating getting to know their routines.  It seems chickens have two modes:  Eating and Resting.  Throughout the day, there are definite times of high activity in the form scratching and pecking, and times of rest.

Here are Penny and Max enjoying an afternoon rest.  (These could easily be Polly and Minnie instead since I can’t tell them apart from the other two seemingly identical hens.)

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At some point during each day, I get my bag of dried Meal Worms, a highly prized hen treat,  go into the Run, and sit on the bench.  I’m working on training the hens to come when called  and to let me pick them up at will.  Patience is a word that comes to mind.  Things are coming along though.  Just today, Max/Minnie hopped up on the bench with me to eat the meal worms I had set out to lure them up.  I have yet to get one of them to eat from my hand though I can tell a few are tempted.  As things are now, if they hear me call out, “chick, chick, chick” as I’m approaching the Run, they come running over to see what I have for them.  Sometimes its Meal Worms, sometimes its tasty weeds with the roots and dirt attached.  I still can’t get them interested in cabbage or kitchen scraps, both of which they are supposed to love.

My new favorite thing in life is to watch the flock put themselves to bed in the evening.  It is the greatest thing to watch these chickens walk up the ramp from the Run to the Coop and then, once inside the coop, walk up the ramp from the floor to the Roosts.  Here’s how it goes.  Wherever I am in Asheville, I do my best to stop what I’m doing and get home before dusk.   I make myself a cup of tea and head out to the Run and grab a seat on the bench.  I’m not sure what it is that makes the first hen (Max or Minnie) decide it’s time to head inside, but as soon as she does, the others follow in very short order.  I’m still trying to learn the pecking order and  I think it is still somewhat fluid, so it’s a bit hard for me to pin down.  Its especially difficult since I have two sets of hens that I can’t tell a part.  I do know that one of the black ones is head and one of the buff ones is last, but the rest remains muddled…at least to me.

It took me about a week to teach the 4 newer hens to use the Roosts and now it’s hilarious because all 6 hens want to roost on this piece of wood that isn’t even a roost.  Its a support bracket I built to support the upper-most roost.

You may remember from a previous post that after hours of research, I built these wonderful roosts using 5 ft long 2x4s with rounded edges at two different heights a certain distance from the wall etc. but the hens don’t want to sleep on them.  Noooo….instead, they try to squeeze onto a 12 inch by 1 inch piece of wood sitting about 4 inches away from the wall.  Please.  How on earth can 6 chickens fit on that?!  Well, the answer is, they can’t, but they give it a stellar effort and amazingly squeeze FOUR on there.   I could sell tickets to the show that is them jockeying for position on that tiny piece of wood crammed between two studs jammed up against the wall.  It must feel cozy and safe  to them compared the the open and exposed Roosts.   With the rate they are growing, I guess its just a matter of time til only three will fit on the bracket and then two…

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Here are Penny, Polly and either Max or Minnie.

Stay tuned for more news from the Coop.

 

And then there were 6

November 29, 2015

Right now, at this very moment, I have 6 young chickens in my backyard ranging in age from 8 weeks to 11 weeks old.  After all these many months of preparation and anticipation, the flock is finally here and I couldn’t be happier about it all.

Having previously arranged yesterday as the pickup day,  I loaded my cardboard box  into the car and drove down to see “The Chicken Man” of Hendersonville.  Out of dozens upon dozens of young chickens, we wrangled 2 Buff Orpingtons, 1 Silver Laced Wyandotte, and 1 Ameracauna into my box and off I drove.  Upon arrival at the Carlton-Ritz Chicken Palace, I placed the box into the coop with one side open and left the new hens to themselves.  You may recall Max and Minnie wouldn’t leave the box on their own accord and had to be shooed out the next day and then shooed out into the Run the day after that.  This was decidedly NOT the case with these new birds.  All four were out of the box within a few hours and one in particular was not only out of the box, but out in the Run trying her hardest to find a way to get even further afield.

I’m going to call this little pistol, Harriet.  Named after Harriet Tubman because she is bold and brave and intent on escape.  Harriet is the Americauna and will lay blue and green eggs come late January to mid February.

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After only about 2 hours in her new home, Harriet popped out of the chicken door and proceeded strut around the Run sticking her head through almost every opening in the wire fence, testing it to see if she could fit through.  This went on for about a half and hour all over the run, near the coop and further away.  By way of comparison, after a week Max and Minnie still like to stick very close to the coop door and venture about half way out into the Run for short bits of time before scurrying back to their safe corner pictured here.  Even close up sightings of Stella and Bodhi did not seem to ruffle Harriet’s feathers.  You go girl!

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I built two of these leaf shelters since reading about hens needing a place to hide from real or perceived threats especially since I don’t have a Rooster for them to rely on as watch dog.  So far, the shelters are getting regular use by the skittish Max and Minnie.  Harriet tried to get under with them a few times, but Max and Minnie would have none of it.  It will be really interesting to watch how the pecking order unfolds as the hens mix together and as they become full grown.

The next new hen to venture out into the Run was Marilyn, the Silver Laced Wyandotte who is 9 weeks old, same as Harriet.  She also strutted around the entire Run and seemed almost as curious as Harriet though she didn’t seem to have escape on her mind, thank goodness.

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Marilyn is the black and white one who will develop a gorgeous set of white feathers trimmed in black, reminiscent of stained glass.  The little 8 week olds are Penny and Polly, the Buff Orpingtons.  Poor Penny and Polly.  They are still so small especially compared to Max and Minnie who are about twice as big.  It’s amazing how much a chicken will grow between 8 weeks and  11 weeks.  Penny and Polly are so small, they can’t reach the water or the feeder, so I brought in a step stool for the water and set out a separate pan of feed for them.  All is well and they seem perfectly content although these two have not ventured out into the Run as yet nor have they been in close proximity to Max and Minnie.

One of my new favorite things to do is to be outside just before dusk so I can watch Max and Minnie finish their outdoor feeding (chickens like a full crop before going to bed.  I think of a crop as sort of a pre-stomach), walk up the ramp into the coop, and then fly/walk up to their roosting spot and settle in for the night.  Last night was especially exciting since I had four hens outside as dusk was approaching.

So, here comes dusk.  Max and Minnie do their thing and head on into the coop, but Harriet and Marilyn seem to be a bit confused as to the evening protocol.  I give them more time, but still no movement toward the coop.  Harriet did make a move to roost in a quite precarious position on top of the leaf shelter just outside the coop door, while Marilyn was simply wandering around with no apparent purpose.  As full dark had settled in, I decided I should capture the two rogue hens and place them inside the coop, so I could safely shut the door for the night.

I invite you to picture a Laurel and Hardy skit in your mind’s eye.  Lucy and Ethel will do as well if that is your preference.  Now, replace the characters in your mind with two chickens and me…in the dark.  No sooner had I caught Marilyn and put her inside the coop and was on to catching Harriet when Marilyn would pop out of the door and back into the Run at which point I had caught Harriet and put her into the Coop.  Turning my attention once again to catching Marilyn and placing her back in the Coop, I would find that Harriet had come out and was once again trying to make a roost out of a leaf and a twig far above the leaf shelter.  After a few rounds of this, I realized Harriet was intent on sleeping outside, so I wrangled Marilyn once again and was able to get her inside and shut the door.  It being a very warm night, I left Harriet to her own devices and went inside knowing I would be back to check on everyone before I went to bed.

During the recheck, I found Max and Minnie on the uppermost roost, Marilyn, Penny, and Polly snuggled together in the bedding on the floor, and Harriet still outside perched on top of the uppermost TWIG, facing the corner of the shed and the fence post.  I swear I don’t know how she spent the night balanced up there, but she did.  You may want to scroll back up to the photo of the leaf shelter to take a look at the one little branch sticking straight up along the fence post.  Shooting off to the right of this branch, almost out of the shot,  is the twig to which I am referring.  My oh my.  I initially thought about naming her Tawanda!, but decided Harriet made a better chicken name.  I suspect however, she really is a Tawanda! at heart.  Time will tell.

Stay tuned for more stories from the Carlton-Ritz Chicken Palace.

 

 

Meet Max and Minnie and what about the cold?

November 23, 2015

The chickens are here!  The chickens are here!

Well, at least two of them are.  I’d like to introduce you to Max and Minnie, the 10 week old Black Australorps I was telling you about.

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They kind of look like a cross between chickens and crows don’t they?  By the way, that is not a litter box for them.  It’s a Dust Bath.  Chickens don’t bathe in water, they bathe in dust/sand/wood ash and apparently they love it. It is also quite important for their hygiene as it keeps lice and mites at bay.   This is just a temporary bath until I get the real one built out in the run.

I bought Max and Minnie from a local lady who runs Blue House Farms…and on this farm there are some chickens of all varieties, ducks, geese, goats, dogs and cats.  There may have been other animals, but it was pitch black dark when I arrived, so I’m unsure on this point.

Saskia, the owner, had already captured Max and Minnie so they were waiting for me in a small box in one of her 3 coops.  After getting a few pointers from her, we put them in the enormous cardboard box I brought (with holes punched all over it), loaded it into the car and off I went.  Once home, I put the box in the coop, opened it up, and left them to their own devices until morning.

I’ve read all over the internet about what to do and what not to do when bringing new chickens home for the first time.  I’m doing my best to do all the right things.  So far, so good, I think.  When chickens are this young it is much easier to introduce them to one another, but when they are full grown, it takes quite a bit of carefully planned maneuvering.  Adult hens will gang up on and can actually peck to death a newcomer if the newcomer is not introduced properly.  Yikes!  Apparently hens take their pecking order very seriously.  I’m happy I’ve got teenagers so don’t need to deal with all that this weekend when I bring the other four home.

The next morning found Max and Minnie huddled in a corner of their box, so I shooed them out of it as gently as possible and removed the box from the coop.  For the next two days, they were nervous nellies barely leaving one of the corners of the coop.  Fortunately they were eating and drinking.  I know this because I would sneak up and spy on them through the tiniest of cracks in the door.  My neighbors must think I am insane since I have been constantly running out back to stand and peek into my own shed.  Ha!

Today I herded them out the Pop-Door and into the Run where they nervously pecked around the ramp taking care not to wander too far from the coop door.  I was hoping they’d stay outside a while and enjoy the sunshine, but as soon as they saw Stella (the cat), they high-tailed it back into the coop and that was that.  I didn’t have the heart to herd them out again, plus some minor construction was about to begin, so I felt they’d be more comfortable inside.

Due to a bit of trouble with the wind blowing rain into one of the coop windows and pop-door, I roped Alan into helping me (really me helping him) build an awning to cover both.  We spent about 3 hours this afternoon creating an Awesome Awning.  Please take a look.

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Don’t you love the tin roof? And here it is again from another angle.

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It is indeed an Awesome Awning, don’t you agree?  The Carlton-Ritz Chicken Palace is really coming together nicely.

I wanted to talk about one last thing before I go.  Lot’s of folks are asking about the cold temperatures and what am I doing about it insofar as the chickens are concerned.  Well.  As you can imagine, I have done lots of reading on this very subject and have found lots of information, much of it conflicting.  I’m sure there are several “right” ways to handle chickens in the cold, but this is what makes sense to me, so this is what I’ll be doing…at least until I learn otherwise.

First, chickens are very different from us humans.  For example, their normal body temperature ranges from about 104-107 degrees.  They also have a built in down coat which they wear all the time.  Some folks feel that if it is too cold for them (the human) then it must be too cold for the hens, so heaters are installed, coops are insulated, and sweaters are knit.  I don’t believe this to be true, so I won’t be doing any of those things.  It seems hens can comfortably abide temperatures down to well below zero without any fuss so long as the following conditions are met.  1.  they and their coop must be dry  2.  there must not be a draft  3.  the coop must be well ventilated.  As you can imagine, the trick is to get a well ventilated coop without drafts.

Chickens can arrange their down and feathers in such a way as to trap their body heat.  Drafts will disturb the feather distribution resulting in cold air getting down to their skin.  This is why drafts are a No No.  Ventilation is important because frostbite can easily become a problem if there is too much moisture in the air.  Chickens can exhale a lot of hot, moist air which can combine with any moisture in the coop bedding or water spills etc to create a situation where frostbite can occur. If the coop has proper ventilation and is kept as dry as possible, frostbite can be avoided.  This is why I installed the Whirly Turbine vent in the roof of my coop.

Having said all this and knowing/hoping  I have met all three criteria for my girls, I’ve been frantic each night and morning because the temps here decided to drop below freezing every night since Max and Minnie arrived and they’ve only had each other to huddle with and not an entire flock.  I went out to the coop first thing this morning to find a layer of ice over their water.  “Have no fear”, I said to myself, I’ve read all about this and understand it is not a cause for alarm, so I simply changed out the water and went about my day.    Max and Minnie were side by side on the upper roost looking as if they didn’t have a care in the world.

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An interesting point of note:  a chickens health is in far more danger when the weather is too hot than when its too cold.  Chickens can suffer heat stroke or the like in temps as low as 85 degrees.

You don’t normally think of chickens in the snow, so here are a few photos showing just that.

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I’m heading out shortly to try to sneak up on Max and Minnie.  I imagine I’ll find them on the upper roost, huddled in the far corner where they will remain until morning.  As it gets dark in the evening, chickens  will make their way to their roost, jockey for position as per the very strict pecking order, and  will stay there until morning.

I’ll be picking up the other 4 girls this weekend and am hoping all goes well with the integration.  Poor Max and Minnie will finally be feeling at home by then and BAM, their world will be turned upside down once again.  I’m sure all will work out beautifully, especially when the hens realize in what a wonderful Palace they are going to get to live.

Among many, many other things, I am grateful for the opportunity to have backyard chickens.

Happy Thanksgiving!